What causes a person to cry

Why We Cry: The Truth About Tearing Up

Written by Alexandra Benisek

In this Article

  • Why You Cry
  • Why Some People Cry More Than Others
  • Why You May Cry for No Reason
  • When Others Cry
  • Trying Not to Cry

Some people cry during commercials, while others only tear up for very sad or happy moments. Sometimes, we even cry randomly. But what’s the reason behind the waterworks? Why do some people cry more than others? Is there any way to control it?

Why You Cry

We cry three different types of tears. Each has its own job and flows from your tear ducts for a different reason:

Basal tears. These tears coat your eyes all day. Blinking helps spread them evenly over the surface of your eyes. They can improve your vision, hydrate your eyes, and sharpen your focus. They protect your eyes and keep out debris. Your tears also transport oxygen and nutrients to the surface of your eyes.

To help them do their job, they contain:

  • Water for moisture
  • Mucus to spread the tears over the surface of your eyes
  • Oils for lubrication, which also helps prevent your tears from evaporating
  • Antibodies and special proteins to resist infection

Irritant tears. These tears gush out of the glands under your eyebrow when you peel onions, throw up, or get debris in your eyes. They wash your eyes out and flush out irritants to protect you.

Emotional tears. These arise from strong emotions. Empathy, compassion, physical pain, attachment pain, and moral and sentimental emotions can trigger these tears. They communicate your emotions to others.

Emotional tears make you feel more vulnerable, which could improve your relationships. Crying often connects people, whether it’s out of grief, love, passion, or another strong emotion. Crying may cause others to be empathetic and compassionate toward you, softening anger or unpleasant emotion that caused the tears to flow in the first place.

Emotional tears contain more stress hormones and natural painkillers than other types of tears. They serve a therapeutic role, also known as “a good cry.” Emotional crying, which tends to make you feel better, may be a part of the healing process. But experts need more research to confirm this.

Why Some People Cry More Than Others

Some people are more likely to cry than others. For starters, women cry 60% more than men. Experts don’t exactly know why.

It could be because men:

  • Have smaller tear ducts
  • Usually have more testosterone, which may inhibit crying
  • Have less prolactin, a hormone that might promote tears
  • Are often encouraged not to cry

Studies show that people with secure relationship attachments are more comfortable showing emotion. They may cry more in normal and healthy settings, while those with insecure relationship attachments may cry at inappropriate times. Similar research suggests that people who avoid close relationships with others are less likely to cry and try harder to avoid tears. Those with clingy or dependent styles cry more often than those with secure relationships.

Why You May Cry for No Reason

Crying can be normal in certain situations. But if you tear up frequently for no reason, it might be a sign of a serious condition.

If you notice that you’re crying every day during normal activities, you may have depression. Other symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, sad
  • Loss of interest in day-to-day life
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Poor sleep
  • Excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness

If you think you have depression, talk to your doctor right away to find the right treatment for you.

Other causes of uncontrollable tears include pathological laughing and crying, which is a condition that can come with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, or other brain diseases. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you or a loved one has this condition.

When Others Cry

If someone begins to cry in front of you, your reaction may come from the discomfort you feel in this situation. Though you may not mean to, your response could cause the person who is crying to feel weak, embarrassed, or less understood.

Instead of rushing to cheer a crier up or offer immediate help, sometimes it’s best to give a person space to cry. Sometimes we need to shed tears to process emotion.

If you’re around someone who is crying:

  • Acknowledge their sadness, embarrassment, or pain and show compassion toward their feelings.
  • Respect their tears. Let them release their feelings and show them you care.
  • Don’t rush to offer advice or to say anything at all. Give them space to process and relieve their tears.
  • After they let you know they’re ready to talk, help them navigate their emotions. Stay compassionate as you listen to why they cried and how they feel now.
  • Don’t talk too much. Let them think and organize their thoughts.
  • Accept the way they respond in the moment. Don’t push them to feel a different way.

Trying Not to Cry

It’s best not to hold in emotions all the time, but sometimes it’s important to hold back tears. If you need to control a cry, try to hold back your tears just until you’re in a better place for them. This way you won’t suppress your emotions altogether. You could excuse yourself from the situation and find somewhere more comfortable to release your tears. You could also distract yourself until you find another place to cry. Watch a funny video, read, or chat with a loved one to keep your mind off crying.

Why Do We Cry? The Science of Crying

Michael Trimble, a behavioral neurologist with the unusual distinction of being one of the world’s leading experts on crying, was about to be interviewed on a BBC radio show when an assistant asked him a strange question: How come some people don’t cry at all?

The staffer went on to explain that a colleague of hers insisted he never cries. She’d even taken him to see Les Misérables, certain it would jerk a tear or two, but his eyes stayed dry. Trimble was stumped. He and the handful of other scientists who study human crying tend to focus their research on wet eyes, not dry ones, so before the broadcast began, he set up an email address—nocrying10@gmail. com—and on the air asked listeners who never cry to contact him. Within a few hours, Trimble had received hundreds of messages.

“We don’t know anything about people who don’t cry,” Trimble says now. In fact, there’s also a lot scientists don’t know—or can’t agree on—about people who do cry. Charles Darwin once declared emotional tears “purposeless,” and nearly 150 years later, emotional crying remains one of the human body’s more confounding mysteries. Though some other species shed tears reflexively as a result of pain or irritation, humans are the only creatures whose tears can be triggered by their feelings. In babies, tears have the obvious and crucial role of soliciting attention and care from adults. But what about in grownups? That’s less clear. It’s obvious that strong emotions trigger them, but why?

There’s a surprising dearth of hard facts about so fundamental a human experience. Scientific doubt that crying has any real benefit beyond the physiological—tears lubricate the eyes—has persisted for centuries. Beyond that, researchers have generally focused their attention more on emotions than on physiological processes that can appear to be their by-products: “Scientists are not interested in the butterflies in our stomach, but in love,” writes Ad Vingerhoets, a professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and the world’s foremost expert on crying, in his 2013 book, Why Only Humans Weep.

But crying is more than a symptom of sadness, as Vingerhoets and others are showing. It’s triggered by a range of feelings—from empathy and surprise to anger and grief—and unlike those butterflies that flap around invisibly when we’re in love, tears are a signal that others can see. That insight is central to the newest thinking about the science of crying.

Darwin wasn’t the only one with strong opinions about why humans cry. By some calculations, people have been speculating about where tears come from and why humans shed them since about 1,500 B.C. For centuries, people thought tears originated in the heart; the Old Testament describes tears as the by-product of when the heart’s material weakens and turns into water, says Vingerhoets. Later, in Hippocrates’ time, it was thought that the mind was the trigger for tears. A prevailing theory in the 1600s held that emotions—especially love—heated the heart, which generated water vapor in order to cool itself down. The heart vapor would then rise to the head, condense near the eyes and escape as tears.

Finally, in 1662, a Danish scientist named Niels Stensen discovered that the lacrimal gland was the proper origin point of tears. That’s when scientists began to unpack what possible evolutionary benefit could be conferred by fluid that springs from the eye. Stensen’s theory: Tears were simply a way to keep the eye moist.

Few scientists have devoted their studies to figuring out why humans weep, but those who do don’t agree. In his book, Vingerhoets lists eight competing theories. Some are flat-out ridiculous, like the 1960s view that humans evolved from aquatic apes and tears helped us live in saltwater. Other theories persist despite lack of proof, like the idea popularized by biochemist William Frey in 1985 that crying removes toxic substances from the blood that build up during times of stress.

Evidence is mounting in support of some new, more plausible theories. One is that tears trigger social bonding and human connection. While most other animals are born fully formed, humans come into the world vulnerable and physically unequipped to deal with anything on their own. Even though we get physically and emotionally more capable as we mature, grownups never quite age out of the occasional bout of helplessness. “Crying signals to yourself and other people that there’s some important problem that is at least temporarily beyond your ability to cope,” says Jonathan Rottenberg, an emotion researcher and professor of psychology at the University of South Florida. “It very much is an outgrowth of where crying comes from originally.”

Scientists have also found some evidence that emotional tears are chemically different from the ones people shed while chopping onions—which may help explain why crying sends such a strong emotional signal to others. In addition to the enzymes, lipids, metabolites and electrolytes that make up any tears, emotional tears contain more protein. One hypothesis is that this higher protein content makes emotional tears more viscous, so they stick to the skin more strongly and run down the face more slowly, making them more likely to be seen by others.

Tears also show others that we’re vulnerable, and vulnerability is critical to human connection. “The same neuronal areas of the brain are activated by seeing someone emotionally aroused as being emotionally aroused oneself,” says Trimble, a professor emeritus at University College London. “There must have been some point in time, evolutionarily, when the tear became something that automatically set off empathy and compassion in another. Actually being able to cry emotionally, and being able to respond to that, is a very important part of being human.”

A less heartwarming theory focuses on crying’s usefulness in manipulating others. “We learn early on that crying has this really powerful effect on other people,” Rottenberg says. “It can neutralize anger very powerfully,” which is part of the reason he thinks tears are so integral to fights between lovers—particularly when someone feels guilty and wants the other person’s forgiveness. “Adults like to think they’re beyond that, but I think a lot of the same functions carry forth,” he says.

A small study in the journal Science that was widely cited—and widely hyped by the media—suggested that tears from women contained a substance that inhibited the sexual arousal of men. “I won’t pretend to be surprised that it generated all the wrong headlines,” says Noam Sobel, one of the study’s authors and a professor of neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Tears might be lowering sexual arousal—but the bigger story, he thinks, is that they might be reducing aggression, which the study didn’t look at. Men’s tears may well have the same effect. He and his group are currently wading through the 160-plus molecules in tears to see if there’s one responsible.

What all of this means for people who don’t cry is a question researchers are now turning to. If tears are so important for human bonding, are people who never cry perhaps less socially connected? That’s what preliminary research is finding, according to clinical psychologist Cord Benecke, a professor at the University of Kassel in Germany. He conducted intimate, therapy-style interviews with 120 individuals and looked to see if people who didn’t cry were different from those who did. He found that noncrying people had a tendency to withdraw and described their relationships as less connected. They also experienced more negative aggressive feelings, like rage, anger and disgust, than people who cried.

More research is needed to determine whether people who don’t cry really are different from the rest of us, and some is soon to come: those emailers who heard Trimble on the radio that morning in 2013 are now the subjects of the first scientific study of people with such a tendency.

Virtually no evidence exists that crying comes with any positive effects on health. Yet the myth persists that it’s an emotional and physical detox, “like it’s some kind of workout for your body,” Rottenberg says. One analysis looked at articles about crying in the media—140 years’ worth—and found that 94% described it as good for the mind and body and said holding back tears would result in the opposite. “It’s kind of a fable,” says Rottenberg. “There’s not really any research to support that.”

Also overblown is the idea that crying is always followed by relief. “There’s an expectation that we feel better after we cry,” says Randy Cornelius, a professor of psychology at Vassar College. “But the work that’s been done on this indicates that, if anything, we don’t feel good after we cry.” When researchers show people a sad movie in a laboratory and then measure their mood immediately afterward, those who cry are in worse moods than those who don’t.

But other evidence does back the notion of the so-called good cry that leads to catharsis. One of the most important factors, it seems, is giving the positive effects of crying—the release—enough time to sink in. When Vingerhoets and his colleagues showed people a tearjerker and measured their mood 90 minutes later instead of right after the movie, people who had cried were in a better mood than they had been before the film. Once the benefits of crying set in, he explains, it can be an effective way to recover from a strong bout of emotion.

Modern crying research is still in its infancy, but the mysteries of tears—and the recent evidence that they’re far more important than scientists once believed—drive Vingerhoets and the small cadre of tear researchers to keep at it. “Tears are of extreme relevance for human nature,” says Vingerhoets. “We cry because we need other people. So Darwin,” he says with a laugh, “was totally wrong.”

This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the March 07, 2016 issue of TIME.

Write to Mandy Oaklander at [email protected].

Why People Learned to Cry - BBC News

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Have you ever thought about how weird it is to shed tears? Why are we doing this? And is there a difference between men and women in this matter? Browser Air Force Future decided to look into the reasons for our tears.

I'm a crybaby and I'm not ashamed of it! I am a man who does not hide his tears. Of course, not in real life, but when I watch a movie.

I haven't quite figured out yet what it is that makes me react this way, but it often brings me to tears when it comes to the relationship between parents and children.

  • Blood, sweat and tears: the secrets of our secrets
  • Should your boss cry with you?
  • Is it bad to be British reserved? nine0004

Take an American film "The Field of His Dreams", which is based on a seemingly strange plot: the character of Kevin Costner builds a baseball field in the middle of his corn field, obeying the instructions of a disembodied voice.

He believes that he is raising the disgraced player "Barefoot" Joe Jackson from the grave, but ends up meeting his father in his youth.

And when I watch the final scenes, I cry.

Okay, "The Field of His Dreams" is deliberately built on the manipulation of emotions. But I also burst into tears when I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens. nine0011

We sat in front of the screen with my daughter, holding hands and crying.

My daughter is ten years old. And then she is a girl. But my tears, according to the norms of our society, there was no justification.

Is it so unusual that I, a man, often cry? Here is just one of the questions that I recently explored as part of a series of broadcasts for the British radio station BBC Radio 4 " The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry."

My co-host Hannah and I studied the science of tears. If men really do cry less, then why? What good is crying?

In general, why did a person learn to cry in the process of evolution?

The answer to the question of whether my tears can be considered a common occurrence is quite simple.

Judging by the results of almost all studies conducted, women do indeed cry more than men, and we have consistently received this result throughout the study of this topic.

Image copyright Thinkstock

Image caption

Scientists still can't quite explain why people cry

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In 1982, psychologist William Frey found that women, on average, cry 5.3 times a month, while men shed a mean male tear only 1.3 times during the same period.

Women cry on average for five to six minutes, compared to two to three minutes for men. nine0011

The Dutch psychologist Ad Wingerhouts from Tilberg University has the best understanding of tears.

He is one of the few scholars to consider this topic, and his research fully confirms the presence of a gender dichotomy that originates in childhood.

In infancy, crying is considered a normal reaction regardless of gender: all babies cry to the same extent (psychologists say that from an evolutionary point of view, crying in an infant is an acoustic signal of the need for parental attention; I think all parents have already guessed this themselves ). nine0011

So what explains the gender differences that appear as a child transitions into adulthood?

Clearly, cultural factors play a significant role here. Indirect research results confirm this assumption: the same experiments conducted in different countries show that where society is more tolerant of tears, people cry more.

In addition, Wingerhuts found that the habit of crying is more common in rich countries: it can be assumed that prosperity somehow opens emotional floodgates in people, turning them into bellows. nine0011

Image copyright Thinkstock

Image caption

Almost every study shows that women do cry more than men. Such a surprise!

At the same time, the psychologist is convinced that not only social conventions but also the production of testosterone serve as a deterrent for men's tears.

He found that prostate cancer patients treated with testosterone-lowering drugs cry more - although in this case it could be argued that their tears may be caused by increased emotionality due to cancer. nine0011

But let's get back to the movies. There is an absolutely terrible moment in the film "Terminator 2", which is wonderful in every way.

The famous hero of Arnold Schwarzenegger - a cyborg from the future - notices that the teenager he is guarding has burst into tears after a hard day (during which all his friends were killed), and in his mechanical voice of a Teutonic knight asks a simple question: "Why are you crying?"

Answer: we don't know.

Humans are the only species known to have emotion-induced tears (in the past there were suggestions that elephants could also mourn the dead, but this hypothesis was not confirmed on closer examination). nine0011

It is surprising how little research has been done on this topic. We do not know why we cry from physical pain, from emotional trauma (these are the so-called psychic tears), or even in moments of great happiness.

Since people are social animals, perhaps tears are a kind of indicator, an external signal of a strong and deep inner experience. However, this is all just guesswork.

Perhaps tears indicate a state of catharsis. In one of his recent studies in 2015, Wingerhuts tried to evaluate the common belief that crying makes you feel better. nine0011

He invited volunteers to describe their emotional state before watching one of two films known for their sentimentality.

One of them, " Life is Beautiful" is an Oscar-winning film about a Jew who tries to cope with the horrors of the Holocaust through play and compassion. The second is " Hachiko: Most Faithful Friend.

The study participants were then asked to complete the same form immediately after watching the film, 20 minutes later, and two hours later.

The results were unequivocal: those who did not cry did not notice any change in their emotional state.

The mood of those who shed tears after the film improved significantly, which can be explained by the effect of catharsis.

Apparently, tears really make people feel better.

Image copyright, Thinkstock

Image caption,

Tearing can be good - even for men

In our "The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry" radio broadcasts, we sometimes do little experiments and reproduce some research to answer questions from listeners, so we decided to repeat this experiment ourselves with films. nine0011

The other half of our duo seems to take some special pleasure in subjecting me to sophisticated tests in the name of science. At the urging of a giggling Hannah, I've driven the M25 during rush hour, passed out, and recently even experienced hot waxing.

But none of these horrors can compare with watching the movie "Hachiko: The Most Faithful Friend" - in order to make me cry.

Here is my report on this film. Hachiko is a dog that is tamed by Richard Gere's character. Richard Gere dies. Hachiko is sad. End. nine0011

Apparently, Gere persuaded the scriptwriters to speed up the death of his character in order to free himself from this penal servitude early.

I didn't cry out of pity for Hachiko, and after watching my mood definitely did not improve, which is quite consistent with the results obtained by Wingershuts.

Probably, it would be better if I gave vent to tears.

  • Read The original of this article in English can be found on the website BBC Future.

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Why we cry unhappy. But everything is more difficult.

Crying is a natural emotional response to feelings, most commonly sadness and pain. “People often cry for other reasons as well,” notes psychologist Steven Sideroff. For example, when they see something beautiful. The person seems to thaw: he ceases to defend himself and is relieved. There is a restoration of energy with the help of feelings. But this is just one of the reasons why we want to cry. nine0011

Crying can be a survival mechanism, notes neuropsychologist Jody Delucia: “When we feel like crying, it indicates an important need.” For example, this may mean that we are missing something or there is too much of something. Or we’re just trying to get attention—what researchers call the “secondary benefit” of crying.

Crying has a biochemical purpose. “It helps flush out stress hormones and toxins from the body,” explains Lauren Bylsma, a researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa (USA). Crying also has a social function: it is easier for a crying person to get the support of others. So tears become a means of manipulation - for example, with their help it is easier to get a partner to agree to a vacation or to encourage children to finally pull up their grades in mathematics. nine0011

If you can't cry

Sometimes tears are too inopportune. Accompanying a loved one to medical procedures, we try to encourage him by our own example. And when our boss says we've been denied a promotion, we try to keep our dignity. In addition, tears always indicate vulnerability. “This vulnerability increases the level of intimacy in relationships with others,” says Steven Sideroff. Sometimes the undesirable increase in intimacy with the environment itself makes us feel uncomfortable. nine0011

What to do with coming tears when you want to cry? Lauren Bylsma advises:

1. Try to save tears for later, but not forever. Suppression of emotions is not good for us, so do not forbid yourself to be weak and do not convince yourself that it is not right to cry.

2. Try to distract yourself. How exactly depends on your character and circumstances. You can watch a funny video, and in line to the doctor - find a magazine and immerse yourself in reading.

3. If you really want to cry, don't resist. Excuse yourself, go out, find a suitable place and cry there. nine0011

How to calm a crying person?

Lauren Bylsma and Steven Sideroff give four clues:

1. If nothing is done, it can make a person cry even more.

2. Try to be supportive. Which one depends on the situation and how closely you know the person crying. Sometimes it is more appropriate to listen carefully and tactfully than to impose hugs.

3. Ask crying people how you can help them. Do not think that you already know why they cry and what they need. nine0011

4. Someone who bursts into tears in front of many people usually feels more embarrassed than someone who cries in the company of one or two people they know. But at the same time, crying among a large group will willingly accept support even from strangers.

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